A Quick Review of LUV

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Hey there Music Movie fam!  How is 2013 treating you so far?  I have to tell you, I’ve been very blessed by it and we are only two weeks in, so I can’t wait to see what else this year has to offer :). Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of viewing a film that comes out this Friday, January 18th, called LUV starring actor, rapper Common (Just Wright, American Gangster) and newcomer Michael Rainey Jr.  With both of the aforementioned delivering powerful performances, the film also features standout performances from Charles S. Dutton (The Obama Effect, Fame), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Mooz-lum), Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire, Brooklyn’s Finest) and the incomparable, insurance selling voice himself Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24).  LUV also has a cameo by the talented Meagan Good (Think Like A Man, Deception), and I know my fellow “Sparklelites” will appreciate seeing veteran actor Lonette McKee (Sparkle – 1976, Malcolm X) on the big screen delivering a solid performance as Common’s mother.

luv-LUVDennisHaysbertCredit_BillGray_rgbLUV tells the story of 11-year-old Woody Watson who, with his mother in rehab and his father out of the picture, lives with his grandmother (Lonette McKee) in suburban Baltimore and longs for his family to be reunited. His charismatic Uncle Vincent (Common) has recently returned home after eight years in prison, determined to straighten out his life by opening a high-end crab shack that will establish him as a solid citizen with a legitimate future.

One day, instead of dropping Woody off at school, Vincent decides to give the boy a tutorial on how a man gets things done. After a trip to a tailor to get Woody a custom-fitted suit, the pair heads to the bank to sign off on the loan Vincent needs to fulfill his dreams. But when his meeting with a bank officer puts the brakes on his plans, Vincent has no one to turn to for help but his former associates, including Baltimore crime boss Mr. Fish (Dennis Haysbert) and his brother Arthur (Danny Glover). A day that begins with a parking- lot driving lesson and Woody’s first oyster takes a desperate turn when Fish insists Vincent run one more drug deal to demonstrate his loyalty. Soon Vincent finds himself pulled back into the violent world he is trying to escape—and Woody has to decide whether to follow his hero…or become his own man. luv-Common-Danny_rgb
LUV is the début feature film by director Sheldon Candis, from a script by Candis and Justin Wilson, and is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve seen in a long time.  Mr. Candis was brilliant in his depiction of his native Baltimore, drawing the viewer in to the point of eerie familiarity; I swore at times I was looking at Philly streets.  The movie also moves well with a 1 hour 34 minute running time, and keeps your attention until its climactic ending. You know I don’t do spoilers, but I will say there are some gritty and violent parts, with adult language, hence an R rating.  I would highly recommend this movie for mature pre-teens and teens, as there are definitely some honest lessons to be shared.  And for the weeping willows, like myself, you may want to bring tissue (that’s all :P).

Now remember, this is an independent film and that means…you guessed it, support it opening weekend!  And make sure to do it Friday, Saturday or a matinée on Sunday so those numbers can make the most impact :).  You can check out the trailer below, and stop back by and let me know your thoughts after you see the film.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

The Obama Effect – A Discussion with Charles S. Dutton (Part II)

What’s happening Music Movie family?  I am still flying high from my interview last Monday with the incomparable Charles S. Dutton, and the re-election of President Barack Obama on Tuesday!  It was a remarkable week to say the least :).  For those who may not know, Mr. Dutton spent several years of his life incarcerated, and that period is well documented (& can be found in any web search) so I won’t waste time re-telling it here.  I did ask what his recommendations would be to those who are trying to make similar transitions, and if he had any upcoming projects on the horizon.  Part II of this interview picks up with him returning to our conversation after taking a call to make sure there wasn’t an emergency at his home/farm:

Thomasena: You mentioned having a farm and you’re a Baltimore native, so is that something you’ve always wanted to do or did you happen upon it?

Charles: I grew up in Baltimore, in the city, so I didn’t know a darn thing about farming. Whenever I’d get sent to a juvenile reform school, my work detail was always on a farm. But I never had any aspirations of buying or working on one.  My mom told me, many years later, that my entire father’s side were all farmers here in the state of Maryland.  She would kid me and say “your damn ancestors have called you back to them (laughs).”

Thomasena: I currently have a young male family member in a state prison, and I know one of his biggest fears is not being able to make it (upon release); and many educated people nowadays have the same concerns.  And you’ve had an extraordinary transition that has been well documented (from incarceration to Towson and then Yale University).  For those individuals in need of inspiration, would you mind sharing how you were able to make that transition and what opportunities you took advantage of?

Charles: I came out of prison 36 years ago (1976), and in those days most states were spending tens of millions of dollars on rehabilitation.  There was parole in the federal prison system, unlike today.  So there was a climate, politically, culturally and socially, where you weren’t considered to be a leper or treated like you had the plague because you were an ex-con.  There were a lot of avenues you could take to better yourself.  As far as people today coming home from an institution, sometimes I don’t like to speak on it because it is totally different, and they have a much tougher road to travel than I did.  But I want to be clear, the first step for anybody staying out of the penitentiary is they have to want to better themselves.  I don’t care if you’re 17 or 70 yrs old.  You have to want it.  While they are still inside try to get a GED, if they don’t already have or diploma, and see if the prison will allow them to take college courses.  That old adage about (getting) an education, sounds like a cliché but it’s true.

For a young person coming out, like your family member, there may be a lot of doors shutting, but he has to find a positive place to volunteer his time.  People can see when you still have negative karma around you. In some way, when you rid yourself of that negative karma, people come out of the woodwork and want to help.  And don’t be inhibited from asking for help, from the right people.  The one thing that connects both generations, mine and this one, is that everybody who changed did it because they wanted to.

Thomasena: I like that you mentioned internal motivation being important, because it really does boil down to taking accountability.  I compare that to your character’s journey in The Obama Effect because he eventually took accountability and made positive changes in different areas of his life.  That was the message that resonated most with me, but what message did you most want the audience to leave the theater with?

Charles: We had the luxury of being able to shoot the film, watch the President for three years in office, and go back and shoot additional footage.  We didn’t want to hammer everybody on the head, but put in messages that were subtle yet effective enough to add some weight. For instance when the character who is my brother (played by CJ Mack) says “a Black man running for president and I can’t vote because of my record,” I definitely wanted to say that.  I wanted to talk about Black men’s health, father and children relationships, and issues surrounding the whole political process. We wanted to make the political process the central theme, but mention those other issues without cluttering the movie.

Thomasena: On a personal note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Roc is one of my all time favorite shows, ever. Watching the season you went live with Ella Joyce, Rocky Carroll, and the late Carl Gordon was nothing short of amazing. And the personal perspective you were able to bring, as well as adding seasoned Broadway actors to the mix, made it one of the most compelling sitcoms of its time.  Would you ever consider venturing into sitcom territory again, and are there any upcoming projects that your fans should look out for?

Charles: One upcoming film is a picture I shot in your town, Philadelphia, called Must Be The Music.  It’s about the music industry, and all of its corruption; and I’ve played villains before, but this is the ultimate villain that I’ve played.  We used 95% of local talent, in front of and behind the camera, and I’m really excited about the film. 

It has been almost 20 years since Roc went off the air and nothing has crossed my desk that has remotely topped that show.  I could have done a drama, came back and did an inferior drama show and still have gotten some meat out of it.  But in comedy, if you’ve done an iconic show and then do another show that’s nowhere near as poignant as the one you’re known for, it can be disappointing for you and the audience. I had to re-adjust my thinking and (realize) if I want to do something else I shouldn’t try to top that show, but do something that would be just as good in its own right.  For years I wasn’t interested, but now I’m looking at a few things, reading 1/2 hour scripts.

Thomasena: Last question is for my music fans.  If you were able to star as or direct a biopic about any musician or singer, who would it be and why?

Charles: Wow, well you’ll really have to see Must Be The Music, because in a way I did just that without looking at any one individual; although the story is centered around a single fictitious character.  If I singled out one person, I would say Louis Armstrong because he’s probably the most misunderstood Black musician of his time.  I’m a product of the 60’s and (back then) many in my generation thought he was an “Uncle Tom.” But the older I got, the more I read; and later I had opportunities to talk to celebrities and people who knew, played and recorded with him.  I ended up respecting the period that those people had to live through, and the things they had to do to make it.  There is a certain way to fight a revolution. Everybody doesn’t have to be on a soapbox screaming, you can have somebody playing the flute and the notes are revolution.  That’s what Louie Armstrong was with his trumpet.  His horn represented a sense of pride, achievement and possibility, and in my opinion he is the greatest trumpet player that ever lived.

Now, Mr. Dutton also shared that he was a Motown fan and would love to do a few biopics of its artists, as well as the legendary gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama.  I know one thing, whatever he puts out, whenever it comes out, I AM THERE :).  Check out the official trailer for Must Be The Music with Charles S. Dutton, Clifton Powell, Tasha Smith, Tyreek “Black Thought” Trotter, Jason “Jadakiss” Phillips, Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, and Trina below.  You can also get more info and check out links for The Obama Effect on DVD and VOD at www.obamaeffectmovie.com.

Until next thought family,  Thomasena

Must Be The Music (Official trailer, GDG Films © 2012):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjGUKHtPMFk

The Obama Effect – A Discussion with Charles S. Dutton

What’s new Music Movie Lovers!  We are less than 24 hours away from knowing the winner of the 2012 Presidential Election, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to make your voice heard by VOTING!  Last post, I recommended a great film that is being released today on DVD, and available on Video On Demand, entitled The Obama Effect.  I had the pleasure of speaking with writer, director and star of the film, the legendary and Emmy award-winning Charles S. Dutton, about the movie, its cast, his love of history, upcoming projects, as well as projects he wishes to make.  So sit back and read part I of my interview below, in time for Election Day, and check back later this week for part II (trust me, you won’t want to miss it!).

Thomasena: What inspired you to write the screenplay for The Obama Effect?

Charles: We started shooting the picture right after (President Obama’s) inauguration; but right before the election Barry Hankerson (producer) called me and said we should be the first ones to do a film if he wins.  I said either way we have a film: if he doesn’t win we have a film about his running for the presidency, and if he does win we’ve got a film about the first Black president.  So after (him) winning, I just needed to decide what type of story we wanted to tell.  It had been a very contentious and tumultuous election period, so we decided to do a satirical look at the 2008 election.  And after talking with a lot of folks who worked on the campaign, and experiences I had myself, I started putting together a story not necessarily about Obama; but about a man who was so obsessed with being involved in that historical moment, and getting Obama elected, that it led to other things in his life.

We were going to bring the movie out in 2010, but (the President’s) approval ratings were so low. And with the birth of the Tea Party, etc., I suggested we wait because it became an ever evolving phenomena with this President and the American public’s reaction to him.  So we had a lot of new stuff that we could shoot and put in the film.  For instance, the scene where Katt (Williams) addresses the all White audience/group (a satirical version of the Tea Party) and they walk out on him? That scene was never in the original script, and was never in the original shooting of the film. So we found new material in waiting until the second election to release the film.

Thomasena: Now you mentioned Katt Williams, who I thought was brilliant in this film. Did you have any actors in mind specifically before the movie was cast?

Charles: Not really. Everyone auditioned pretty much except Glynn Turman, who is a buddy of mine, and Meagan Good.  No one made a lot of money doing this movie; and everyone in the film did it for the sole reason that it was a historical film. They wanted to do it.  And the people who auditioned got the roles on their own merit. Vanessa (Bell Calloway) auditioned for the role of the wife and knocked it out of the ball park. We originally offered the son (who is a boxer) role to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. but it didn’t work out, so I selected Zab Judah.  And you know sometimes the second choice is the right choice, and Zab was really good in his film début.

Thomasena: When I viewed the film, I found myself becoming emotional during the scene when President Obama is elected.  Now we, the audience, already knew what was going to happen but it was as if we were seeing it for the first time.  I was in a mixed audience (race and age wise) and everyone appeared to have a similar experience; some people clapped, while some cheered. Did you expect that to happen or were you trying to elicit that sort of emotion from the audience?

Charles: I purposefully set out to attempt that, I didn’t know if I was going to succeed.  What I was going for, along with it being a satire, was to try to capture the euphoria, emotion and passion of that period, particularly election night.  In the process of making the film, my concentration was constantly on the climax and getting people to fall back into just how they felt that night.  Whenever I see the film with an audience, people express just what you said, so in that regard I felt like we achieved what we were going for in the film.

Thomasena: Now I want to segue for a minute and then come back to the election.  I read in an online bio that you are an American history buff, is that true? And do you have a favorite period of study?

Charles: Yeah, I like American History period, but I have a certain angle on it.  I’m a buff from the African-American view, but I’m also a buff for finding those people who aren’t talked about in the history books.  We all know who Crispus Attucks was, but in searching the American Revolution I discovered this man named Colonel Fye [sic] who was a thorn in the Patriots side and fought with the British.  And I kept saying where is the movie on him? If I go to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, I don’t go there to see or find out what Jefferson did.  I go to find out where the slaves stayed, or learn how many slaves he owned. I’m a buff for the Native American Calvary Wars, in the late 1800’s, but for knowing what role the Buffalo Soldiers played.  And why isn’t the one Black scout, Isaiah Dorman, who led Custard through the Black Hills, and was slaughtered with all the other 7th Calvary members, mentioned in history books or movies? It’s those nuggets that I look for, from a perspective of where and how prominently African-Americans were involved.  And if our roles were prominent, why are we constantly cut out of the history books?

Thomasena: In light of how easily dismissed many of the efforts of African-Americans have been historically, and coming back to that 2008 election, what impact did seeing an African-American president elected have on you?  Where were you when it happened?

Charles: I was just like everybody else, at home with family watching the results, and got emotional like everyone else.  I was (flipping) from channel to channel to news shows I like, and I think (the channel) was on the Brian Williams show when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, for the first time since the Kennedy administration there will be little children in the White House…and then we knew. It was quite a moment to recognize and quite a feeling, just reflecting on the possibilities.  But, the euphoria of it is one thing and the reality is another. And I snapped out of the euphoria just a few minutes after the election, because racism was not going to stop. I knew President Obama was going to have a hard four years, and an even harder four more if he wins (the 2012 election).

Now, I hope you enjoyed reading, as much as I enjoyed experiencing, part I of my interview with Charles S. Dutton.  He is, by far, one of the most amazing people I’ve interviewed and it’s not hard to see why the projects he touches are infused with so much passion.  Be sure to check back in for part II, where we discussed his groundbreaking show Roc, advice he would give to persons re-entering society from prison, and which musicians he would like to do a biopic for (or is it one already in the works?).  If you haven’t done so already, click the Follow tab and sign up to automatically receive new posting updates, so you’ll know ASAP when I post part II :).

You can check out more about The Obama Effect movie, including the official trailer and story synopsis, at www.obamaeffectmovie.com.   You’ll also find a link to watch the film on VOD and to order the DVD.  Lastly, here’s one final task and please choose to accept: VOTE 11/6/12! 

Until next thought family,  Thomasena

GET OUT AND VOTE – ELECTION DAY 11/6/12

Hey There Music Movie Lovers!

We are less than a week away from the Presidential Election here in the U.S., and I want to take time to first and foremost encourage everyone to VOTE!  There are some critical things (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and a woman’s right to choose to name a few) that will be greatly affected by the result of this election.  You cannot make an impact with non-action and judgement; and please do not be deceived by those who choose complacency, your vote counts!

I want to also recommend a movie that I viewed in limited release last July, that’s currently on Video On Demand and will be released on DVD next Tuesday, Election Day.  Written, directed by and starring one of my favorite actors, the Emmy award-winning Charles S. Dutton (Roc, The Corner), The Obama Effect is a dramatic comedy that highlights how important it is to create positive change within yourself, your family, as well as the world around you.  The film also stars Vanessa Bell Calloway (The Last Fall, A Beautiful Soul), Katt Williams (one word – HYSTERICAL!), Meagan Good (Jumping The Broom, Think Like A Man), Wesley Jonathan (The Soul Man, Roll Bounce), veteran actor Glynn Turman (Super 8, House of Lies) and IBF Light Welterweight and Welterweight boxing champion Zab Judah.  You can find out more about the film, as well as watch the film on VOD or pre-order the DVD, at www.obamaeffectmovie.com.

Okay family, off my soapbox :). But seriously, I am not telling you who to vote for, but am asking that you simply learn the facts and do it.  If you found yourself in Hurricane Sandy’s path, I pray that you and yours are safe and well.  The “furry gangstas” (a.k.a. my two cats) and I lost power for approximately 22 hours, but I am not complaining as I know it could have been worse. The storm, however, did prevent me from screening two movies I had scheduled, Flight and Skyfall.  I may get another chance to catch and review Skyfall in time for its release, but I’ll definitely catch the Denzel Washington driven vehicle Flight this weekend after it opens.  If you check it out as well, stop back by and let me know your thoughts!

Until next thought family, Thomasena